How to complete a competency based job application form

You’ve heard about a vacancy for your ideal job so you start to dust off your CV only to realise that they don’t want your CV but instead want you to fill in a seemingly endless application form.  You scroll down through the form and once you get past the usual information requests for you to detail your work experience and education you see a number of additional questions.  They are usually prefaced with the following:
“In the spaces below, briefly describe what you consider to be a good example of demonstrating your ability in each of following competency areas”
At this point one of two things will happen:
a) You abandon the application form, too much trouble and tell yourself that you probably wouldn’t have liked the job anyway.
b) You start to trawl through your career history to come up with examples of where you showed the specific competency – and then try to summarize it in a targeted and coherent way.
Here are some tips to make sure your completed form gets you an interview.

1. Read their definition of the competency – and reflect it back in your answer

Most employers will state the competency they want you to provide evidence of – eg Evaluating Information and Problem Solving and then give you a brief definition of how that is demonstrated in the role.  Use their definitions as a guide to help you decide what example from your own work experience is best for proving each competency.

2.  Use the STARR (Situation, Task, Action, Result, Reflection) to structure every answer

Each answer should contain three paragraphs
Situation/Task: the nature of the task, problem or objective
Action YOU took: what you did and how you demonstrated this competency or skill
Result and Reflection: the outcome or result of the situation and, if possible a brief reflection on what you learned from this experience

3. Use numbers and statistics to prove you made an impact. Just claiming you made a contribution may not be enough to prove you did.

For example: Which of these two statements below , A or B, gives you better evidence that I can show initiative to improve the efficiency of my department?
A:  “Once I had completed the health and safety audits and delivered the training to the team there was a significant decrease in the amount of safety breaches reported.   In addition the team commented that they felt much more informed on how to deal with potential hazards.”
B:  “Once I had completed the 3 health and safety audits over a 3 month period and delivered the training to a team of 20 machine operators and 25 delivery agents I measured the effectiveness of my safety initiative. There was a 35% reduction in the amount of safety breaches reported. In addition 90% of team members commented in the post training survey that they were now more aware of how to deal with potential hazards.”
A is too general – avoid using generic descriptions like “much more informed” or “significant decrease”.  B is preferable as the reader can get a much better sense of the impact your intervention made to the situation.

4. Use different situations for each competency question.

Don’t be tempted to use the same situation to prove you have two different skills or competencies.  They will want to see different ones.

5. Don’t go back too far

Where at all possible try to keep your examples recent and don’t go back more than 3-4 years to quote examples.

6. Use the allocated word count

Use as close as possible to the full allocation of what is allowed.  Just using half of it may indicate to the employer that you are not really that interested in the role.  And don’t go over the word count.  Imagine the employer reviewing dozens of application forms and you insist on using 500 words to answer each question while everyone else can do it in 250. Not a great vote of confidence for you.

7. Know your examples

Many employers state on the application form that you are allowed to take the completed application form into your interview – for reference.  DON’T ! Nothing looks worse to an interviewer than the sight of a candidates rummaging through their application form trying to remember what they wrote for a particular competency.  Take the time before the interview to review your application form and be familiar with what you wrote

Hilt provides advice for candidates completing Application FormsContact us for details.